Archive for August, 2018

Where the ‘Road’ Began

Tuesday, August 14th, 2018


Photo courtesy of Google

On Monday I spent several hours researching the places Jack Kerouac visited in Rocky Mount. I am not the first to do this work: John Dorfner of Raleigh, N.C., has done the heavy lifting. My goal is to assemble facets of Kerouac in new ways, while adding new information.

If you’ve read On the Road, you know the episode about halfway through where the heart of the novel really begins: “One day when all our Southern relatives were sitting around the parlor in Testament, gaunt men and women with the old Southern soil in their eyes …. a mud-spattered ’49 Hudson drew up in front of the house on the dirt road. … A weary young fellow, muscular and ragged in a T-shirt, unshaven, red-eyed, came to the porch and rang the bell. I opened the door and suddenly realized it was Dean. He had come all the way from San Francisco to my brother Rocco’s door in Virginia, and in an amazingly short time.”

Testament being Rocky Mount, the house is on Tarboro Street. That’s the neighborhood where so many of my friends lived, when I grew up in Edgecombe County. It was 1328 Tarboro Street, just across from the little store where Dad and I used to watch Matchbox car races, about a half mile from Eastern Elementary School, where I attended third and fourth grade. Sycamore Street, Eastern Avenue, and I went to junior high school at Edwards, on Marigold Street.

Changes after desegregation meant that many people left these beautiful neighborhoods – and Edgecombe County became somehow less desirable, in what is called “white flight” – two decades later I returned to my own elementary school to teach French. I loved the children, although the demographics were against them. Their families had few resources; often when I visited their homes I saw roaches, horror movies on play, even in one home a pile of dirt. Parents who drank; and crack that invaded our cities in those days.

We segregate ourselves based on money, skin color, fame. We classify ourselves as “better than,” even when we don’t intend to.

Kerouac knew that. Indeed, On the Road contains the narrative of a man whose first language was French, who never felt he belonged to this or that group; a man who by traveling was able to connect with all people, all places.

The Buddha taught that all life is change. A river is never the same from moment to moment – and yet, it is always the river. On the road, everything always changes, and yet it is always the road.

My World and Jack’s

Wednesday, August 8th, 2018

This morning opened with a 6.2-mile run, begun before sunrise and ending just as the day warmed. My friend remarked the moon’s cusp was so bright, the dark half also shone. I get a sense of the physical sphere up there, the Moon as object, when the Dark Side is illuminated. Looking up at the Moon I feel my own life more concretely.

After many years focusing on research, data, and analysis – and really forcing all my right-brain creativity into a narrow left-brain chute – I have emerged on the other side. I opened up the novel files to see if I still cared. Imagine my astonishment: Not only do I still care, but I have so much narrative stored inside that took shape over the last eight years.

Yes, opening those files and reading that opening, I felt my own breath, my own life, return. I am different now than when I started the novel in 2002. Among many other life changes, I am now eight years divorced – as compared with two years’ married. 16 years is a long time, and yet for the life of the novel, what matters is not the years, but my own understanding. And for that, I am grateful. My artistic vision now is more polished. Thanks to many years as a data gal, I am also more focused and disciplined. My thoughts still unmoored in many ways, and yet they are no longer so fragmented and unconnected. I see the thread of narrative now. I respect the tedium of explanation, although it’s still not a strong point.

Back to Kerouac. I revisited his home with a friend in June. I am revisiting that time in his life, roughly 1952-1957, or the years prior to On the Road’s publication.

I’d like to explore those years more, define them. I’m not sure that’s been done. No, I’m not Ann Charters (the amazing Kerouac scholar). But I feel affinity with Kerouac for any number of reasons.

His first language was French, my second, nearly native, is also French. I think, feel, express myself, and experience the world differently in French. I believe he did, as well.

We also share a Christian mysticism, along with curiosity about, and dedication to, Buddhist principles.

Last, there is the mystery of nature which Kerouac embraced. Indeed, it may be at the heart of his travels. His road stories focus on the surroundings, the freedom of space and setting. His stories about Big Sur, his letters about writing often focus on the woods. There’s usually a trail nearby, especially in works outside of On the Road.

I’ll post chapters as I complete them, unedited as they are. “The secret of writing is the rhythm of urgency,” Kerouac said. With this window in my life, there is urgency.